Does your baby have a thumb sucking habit?

Written by Dr. Apurva Chavan

Last updated Jul 27, 2021

Does your baby find his/her thumb to be very tasty? Do you often see your baby sucking their thumb while going to sleep or even in their sleep? Have you noticed your baby calm down the minute they start sucking their thumbs? Then your baby has a thumb sucking habit.

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex and most babies have this habit at some point in their childhood. Some babies even start sucking their thumbs in the privacy of their mother’s womb. While others develop this habit after 3 months of age.

No matter when your baby develops taste for his/her thumb, it is nothing to worry about. As a rule of thumb (pun intended) most children stop thumb sucking by the age of 5. Here is what dentists think about thumb sucking –

Thumb sucking gets a thumbs up till 4 years of age

Babies start sucking their thumbs to satisfy their primary reflex. Babies get food, water and comfort only through their mouth for the first few months of their life. Everything is new and scary for them and thumb sucking calms them down. It is also a sign of independence. Instead of crying or calling out for you, a baby sucks its thumb to calm itself down and reduce its anxiety. Besides, their thumbs are always easily available. So thumb sucking is good for their emotional health and your mental peace.

Thumb sucking gets a thumbs down after 5 years of age

By 4 years of age, a child matures and understands the world better. They develop better emotional copying capabilities and should leave thumb sucking behind. Continuation of the habit beyond this age can have adverse effects on your baby’s teeth and facial structures.

Remember thumbs in, teeth out. After 5 years, permanent teeth start erupting. The pressure action and placement of the thumb pushes the erupting upper teeth out and lower teeth in, causing an overbite and poor alignment. Braces are the only solution for such teeth.

This habit can now seriously go wrong

Aggressive thumb sucking causes the skin of the thumbs to split and callous. This causes problems while learning to write. Older kids get teased by their peers and reprimand by adults for thumb sucking. This causes social anxiety and poor social adjustment.

Children who continue to suck their thumbs beyond 7-8 years of age, might develop an oral fixation. These children are more likely to develop oral habits like binge eating, nail biting, smoking, drinking or even being excessively talkative in adulthood.

A lot of children stop the thumb sucking habit on their own. But even if your child is finding it hard to stop, it is fine. Remember that thumb sucking is an emotional habit and it will take time to stop. A lot of methods like thumb guards, ointments, oral cribs etc. are available to stop the habit. Ask your dentist to recommend the best option for your child.

Visit your dentist as soon as your baby turns 1 and get them checked regularly for any dental problems and conditions. Instill good oral hygiene habits from a young age to make sure they enjoy a lifetime of good oral health.

 

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